Man charged after woman found stabbed to death in burned house

HIGHLANDS, Texas - A man has been charged in the case of a woman who was found stabbed to death in her burned house late last year.

On Dec. 13, 2013, firefighters responded to a house fire in the 800 block of Clear Lake Road in Highlands with possible people trapped inside. After the fire was extinguished, deputies say the remains of a woman were located inside the residence.

The victim was later identified as the homeowner, 72-year-old Caroline Suellen Stagner, who went by Sue. Stagner, a mother and grandmother, lived alone.

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences conducted an autopsy on the victim and determined that the victim died as a result of several stab wounds to her chest, neck and head prior to the fire.

Investigators say Stagner's daughter told them it appeared property was missing from the home and that her mother kept a large amount of cash inside the residence.

After a neighbor reported finding a bag with jewelry and a pill bottle with Caroline Stagner's name on his property, investigators searched the property nearby and say they found another pill bottle with Stagner's name on it. Authorities say they interviewed that neighbor, who told them their son was at their home the night before the fire. The mother told investigators her son, Ethan Drake, was asleep inside their residence that morning, but she did not know his whereabouts in the middle of the night.

Court documents state investigators interviewed Drake's friend who said Drake called him to get a ride the morning of the fire to Gladewater, Texas. Investigator say that friend told them Drake had a large amount of cash on him, which was highly unusual since he was unemployed and often had to borrow money from him and others, and that Drake paid him $140 for the drive and also filled up his gas tank.

During an interview, investigators say Drake denied being at his parent's house the day of the fire or even the night before. He initially denied his friend gave him a ride, then said his friend did give him a ride, but that was on a different date, according to investigators.

Court documents show Drake was charged with burglary of a habitation in Gladewater last month. He's accused of burglarizing a neighbor's home and taking pills and checks, then setting the house on fire.

Investigators say jail phone records show Drake told his brother that he lied to police about where he was on Dec. 13, 2013, and that he told his mother that "they won't find anything because I washed them about 500 times," after she told him police confiscated his backpack and clothing. Authorities say Drake's jeans showed evidence of biological fluids, including blood.

On Monday, Ethan Drake was charged with capital murder in the case.

Drake, 21, was arrested and book into the Gregg County Jail in Longview, Texas.

On Tuesday afternoon, Drake was returned to Harris County to be processed into the jail.

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